On 20 October 2005 the Unesco General Conference adopted the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which was negotiated jointly by the European Commission, on behalf of the Community, and the Council Presidency, on behalf of the Member States. The Convention is the first of its kind in international relations, as it enshrines a consensus that the international community has never before reached on a variety of guiding principles and concepts related to cultural diversity. This text forms the basis of a new pillar of world governance in cultural matters.
1. What is the scope of the text adopted by Unesco?
The Unesco Convention sets out common rules, principles and points of reference for cultural diversity at global level. It is the first time the international community has been able to reach such a consensus on these questions.
The text makes a considerable contribution to recognising the role and legitimacy of public policies in protecting and promoting cultural diversity, to recognising the importance of international cooperation and promoting this to deal with cultural vulnerabilities, especially in developing countries, and to defining appropriate links with other international instruments that enable the Convention to be implemented effectively.
Moreover, the Convention represents a new platform for tackling culture in the wider context of sustainable development.
2. The European Union and cultural diversity: how does the Community uphold the principle of cultural diversity?
Preserving and promoting cultural diversity are among the Community’s founding principles. They are enshrined in the Treaty, under Article 151, and in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, under Article 22.3.
Within the Union, Article 151 of the Treaty, which has enabled the development of cultural activities, notably through the Culture 2000 Programme, also requires the cultural dimension to be taken into consideration in other Community policies, such as industrial policy in the case of the MEDIA Plus Programme and the internal market policy (free movement of services) in the case of the "Television Without Frontiers" Directive.
This principle can also be applied to the external dimension of Community action. Article 151 calls upon the EC and its Member States to promote this model in their international relations, as a contribution to a world order based on sustainable development, peaceful coexistence and intercultural dialogue.
The Community has therefore drawn up an ambitious development policy with a cultural dimension with some of the world's regions, especially in African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries but also in the Mediterranean and, more generally, among the Union’s neighbours. In this context, the Community’s policies support and implement specific objectives enshrined in the adopted Convention, such as developing viable local cultural industries and improving the movement of cultural works at global level, especially from developing countries.
3. Who negotiated the Convention on behalf of the European Union?
The European Community, through the European Commission and as per the mandate conferred by the Council in November 2004, negotiated alongside the Member States at Unesco, with the incumbent Council Presidency (the three successive Presidencies being the Netherlands, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom) at the helm throughout the process. This classic modus operandi is used whenever the competences at stake in given international negotiations are shared between the Community and the Member States. The common positions expressed by either the Commission or the Presidency, depending on the subject under discussion, were fully coordinated throughout the negotiations.
The European Community’s involvement in negotiations on a normative text at Unesco was the first of its kind.
The European Union was able to participate for the first time and speak with a single voice as a key player in the Unesco negotiations.
The European Parliament, and above all its Committee on Culture, followed these negotiations closely and supported the Community’s approach throughout the process.
4. In what way is the text a new pillar of world governance?
The Unesco Convention makes it possible to fill a legal vacuum in world governance by establishing a series of rights and obligations, at both national and international level, aimed at protecting and promoting cultural diversity. This instrument should play a similar role for cultural diversity – and at the same normative level – as the World Intellectual Property Organisation conventions, World Trade Organisation agreements, World Health Organisation agreements and Multilateral Environment Agreements do in their respective areas.
The Unesco Convention is a platform for debates and exchanges on cultural diversity at international level: it will allow the reality of cultural diversity in the world to be observed and closely monitored, and opinions, information and best practices to be exchanged between the parties. It will also be possible for the parties to coordinate and consult each other to promote the Convention’s objectives in the other international bodies and to strengthen international cooperation.
The Convention’s overall objective is to take into account cultural diversity when developing other policies, by ensuring that cultural policies support fair access to both local cultures and other world cultures. The Commission therefore sees the Unesco Convention as an adaptation of Community principles at international level, in particular Article 151.4, which requires the Community to take cultural aspects into account under other provisions of the Treaty.
5. Does this Convention call into question the Community’s and Member States’ commitments to the World Trade Organisation? How does this text fit in with WTO commitments?
The Convention does not call WTO commitments into question. There is no objective nor effect to remove or exclude cultural goods and services from the WTO agreements. The Convention recognises the specificity of cultural goods and services and legitimises domestic and international cultural policies.
The Convention is not subordinated to other treaties but on an equal footing with, for example, the WTO agreements. It does not conflict with but complements these other international agreements.
The Unesco Convention will not alter the WTO agreements (which is not possible in any case – only the Organisation’s members can do this by following established procedures) but will require parties to consider the objectives of cultural diversity and the terms of the Convention when applying and interpreting their trade obligations, as well as negotiating their trade commitments. The Convention is therefore a considerable step forward in protecting and promoting cultural diversity at international level, including in trade negotiations.
There is nothing in the Convention that prejudges the positions that the parties will take in trade bodies. For their part, the Community and Member States have a clear position in the WTO on cultural and audiovisual services, which is to preserve their role in maintaining and developing policies in these areas. Within the framework of the Doha Development Round, the Commission indicated that it would not ask for or offer trade commitments in audiovisual and cultural services.
6. What are the next steps?
The next step is to implement the Convention, which means beginning the process of ratification, especially by the Community and its Member States.
As regards ratification by the Community – which may become a contracting party, according to the text – the Commission envisages the adoption of a proposal for a Council decision as of this autumn, with a view to approval.
By launching the process towards the implementation of the Unesco Convention, the Community and its Member States will send a clear message of their commitment to cultural diversity. This is the logical continuation of their strong involvement in the negotiations and their desire to work with their partners to promote this principle at international level
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